by Miceál O’Hurley
KYIV — Ukraine’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Dmytro Kuleba, held an English language press conference online on 2 February 2022, live from Kyiv. The press conference, which included impromptu questions from the international media, was focused on the current tensions caused by Russia’s continued build-up of combat forces threatening Ukraine.
A transcript of the press conference appears below (check against delivery):
[TRANSCRIPT - PRESS CONFERENCE OF HIS EXCELLENCY DR. DMYTRO KULEBA - 2 February 2022 1400hrs (GMT+2)] Dear friends, I’m glad to welcome all of you at today’s briefing. I will take this opportunity to answer three most important questions regarding the current situation. First. How did we get here? Second. Where we are now? Third. What can be done? Let’s start with the first one. How did we get here? Some international media coverage today misses an important point. Russia already attacked Ukraine. Eight years ago, at the end of February 2014, President Putin ordered Russian troops to enter Crimea and then Russia launched a war in Ukraine’s eastern region of the Donbas. This was an unprovoked and unjustified act of aggression of one state against another. In 2013 Ukraine was on its way to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union in order to deepen mutually beneficial trade, as well as economical and political integration. This agreement had been long in the works. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin forced the then President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych to make a last-moment U-turn and refuse to sign the agreement, effectively reversing a long-established EU-integration policy against the will of the Ukrainian public opinion. This decision led to a nationwide popular protest and a brutal use of force against protestors in Kyiv, after which Yanukovych fled the country and hid in Russia. It’s important to mention here that the protestors did not take over neither the building of the government, nor the presidential administration, nor the parliament of Ukraine. Therefore, the Russian myth of ‘coup d’etat’ in Ukraine is a fake. What happened instead is that the legitimate parliament of Ukraine voted by an overwhelming majority of elected representatives to appoint new presidential elections because the sitting President fled the country. In three months, Ukrainians elected a new President in a fair and transparent manner. President Putin seized the opportunity of our country being weak and disoriented, and ordered his military to seize Crimea and he launched the war in the Donbas. Russian officials take lengths to talk about a mythical NATO threat to Russia and justify their expansionism with illegitimate demands that Ukraine should not be allowed to become a member of NATO. I want to remind everyone that when Russia invaded Crimea and launched its war in the Donbas in 2014, Ukraine was a neutral country both in reality and by the law. In 2010, Ukraine passed a law clearly stating that it was a nonaligned country that had no intention of joining any military alliance. There was no nationwide public discussion of NATO membership at that time; the Euromaidan protests centered not on the military alliance but on economic and political integration with the EU. When I now hear the flawed argument that Ukraine’s neutrality could make Putin less aggressive, I wonder how? It did not stop him from attacking us in 2014, so it is hard to see why it would stop him now. Now let’s instead turn to the second question. Where are we? Speaking of the wider context, I am confident that Russia’s war on Ukraine and wider Europe will ultimately end when two fundamental issues are resolved. First. The West should turn from reactive to proactive strategies when dealing with Russia. Putin and his associates keep demanding everyone to explain, I quote, ‘ how partners understand their obligation not to strengthen their own security at the expense of the security of other States’. End of quote. This is demanded by Russia, a country that invaded Georgia and occupies part of its land, a country which invaded Ukraine and occupied Crimea and Donbas, killed over 14 thousand people in Ukraine, continues cyber attacks against other countries, disinformation campaigns, extrajudicial killings in NATO and EU countries. So in fact it is the West that should be asking Russia such questions. When will Russia explain to all of us how Euro-Atlantic security will be guaranteed and secured from Russian expansionism? I insist that Russia can not guarantee its security at the expense of the security of Ukraine and other countries. Second. Ambiguity on Ukraine’s role as an indivisible part of the West has to be put to an end. The Ukrainian people chose this course and defended it at a high price. We are historically, politically, and culturally a part of the West. It is time to end harmful ambiguity which serves as a temptation for the Kremlin to continue its attempts to undermine Ukraine or reverse its course against the will of the Ukrainian people. Furthermore, it is in the strategic interest of the West itself to institutionalize Ukraine as its indivisible part. Ukraine is a valuable partner that contributes to security, peace, prosperity and stability in wider Europe. Now let’s turn to the current situation and answer the third question: what can be done? In order to answer it we have to look at what happened last spring. Russia built up its military infrastructure near Ukraine’s borders and tested the reaction of the West. You remember that spring escalation. Then it announced it ended the exercises, but the infrastructure largely remained in place. It was on a stand by mode until November last year when Russia rolled out additional military infrastructure and brought more troops near the Ukrainian border and in our temporarily occupied territories. Russia has never explained the reason for such actions except saying that it can move forces freely around its territory. And this inability to explain their actions is because there is no real reason for them and have never been one. Except Russia putting pressure on Ukraine and wider Euro-Atlantic space, threatening a new war during a still raging pandemic and putting forward bizarre and illegitimate ultimatums. Ukraine is preparing itself for all possible scenarios. We do not underestimate the threat. Nor will we allow Russia to destabilize Ukraine by sowing panic. Despite Russian statements on some kind of limited withdrawal which we saw a few days ago, we can not confirm any real decrease in the number of troops. At this moment, by assessment of Ukraine and its partners, this number and composition of forces is not sufficient for a full-scale invasion. However, we keep vigilant and keep monitoring further dynamics. I want to reiterate: Ukraine calls on Russia to withdraw the troops it amassed near our borders, bring them back to their bases, stop intimidating Ukraine and the wider Euro-Atlantic community, and address all issues at the negotiating table only. Here I would like to specifically stress that Ukraine and our partners, including the U.S. have no difference in assessing risks of current Russian escalation. The tone of voice of our messages may sound different, but the actual assessment is the same. Everything is possible and we should be prepared for every possible scenario. I am grateful to all Ukraine’s partners for the broad support they extended to strengthen Ukraine politically, militarily and economically. I am especially grateful to the United States for the largest military aid in history provided to bolster Ukraine’s defenses. I remind that we need defensive weapons in order to strengthen diplomatic efforts and the stronger Ukraine is the less risk we will need to use these weapons. Every country that is helping Ukraine these days on three tracks: on communicating the inadmissibility of the war with Ukraine to Russia, the design of the sanction package and the supply of military weapons is worth being thanked for these efforts and for this exercise. This is really important. Not only the Government, but also the people of Ukraine appreciate that you stand by us under the current circumstances. Ukraine is ready to meet with Russia in any format of negotiations to seek diplomatic solutions to the eight-years-long Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict. We have never been hiding from negotiations. On the contrary, we have been working hard for years within the Normandy format with Germany and France as mediators to seek diplomatic solutions. I welcome the format’s recent revitalization in Paris and look forward to Russia finally showing constructive willingness to pursue diplomacy and finally agreeing to organize a new meeting of the Normandy format leaders. This is why Ukraine and the entire democratic world implement a global strategy of containment and deterrence. We don’t know what the Russian leadership is up to, but we work tirelessly with partners to ensure unity of the broad international coalition in support of Ukraine, in order to reduce security risks and implement strong deterrence measures. The goal is to let Russian leadership soberly understand that any military adventures are not worth their price. I want to stress that Russia uses not only military force to pressure Ukraine. It also invests heavily in destabilizing our country from within. This includes disinformation, cyber attacks, fake bomb threats, attempts to sow distrust and forment popular unrest. Attempts to divide Ukraine and its partners. Russian threats already harm our economy. The government of Ukraine is focused on maintaining financial and economic stability. In fact, we ended 2021 with a record economic indicators. Highest GDP in three decades, largest export in ten years and record high reserves. Ukraine has implemented dozens of crucial reforms since 2014 which made our economy stronger, reduced corruption and elevated the overall resilience. We will not let Russia spoil these achievements. What happens around Ukraine matters not only to Ukraine. Russia’s real aims go far beyond our country. Russia aims to shatter the long-established order in Europe and Euro-Atlantic area, undermine its core principles, and destroy the post-Cold War security architecture that ensured decades of peaceful development and prosperity for all Europeans. A failure of the West in Ukraine will send a message across the globe that the West is incapable of defending its core principles and thus incapable of defending itself. This is why Ukraine, together with our partners and allies, is implementing a global strategy aimed at preserving peace and deterring Russia. This strategy consists of three main elements. First, a comprehensive deterrence package. Back in November we reached out to partners with an initiative to put together a package of measures which can effectively change calculations in the Kremlin and demotivate it from further aggression. It includes active diplomacy, a number of painful sanctions and deepened military-technical cooperation to make Ukraine stronger. I’m glad that the idea of the package is already being implemented. Active diplomacy works and holds Russia on the diplomatic track. Some very concrete and painful economic measures are already at the table. Ukraine already gets significant strengthening from its partners. The stronger Ukraine is, the lower are risks of further Russian aggression. The more defensive weapons we get today, the less likely we will need to use them. Strengthening Ukraine today is an investment in the overall Euro-Atlantic security. Second element of the strategy is an intensive stream of high-level visits to Ukraine. Last year I asked partners to visit us in January and February 2022. Constant presence of top-officials in Ukraine demonstrates international support for our country and significantly reduces risks of further escalation. Third element of the strategy is what we call network diplomacy. During the cold War, shuttle diplomacy helped reduce tensions and avert war. What helps us today is network diplomacy. Meaning intense coordination of positions before and after all contacts with Russia. Network diplomacy maintains unity and ensures Russia hears the same messages from all partners. The main message is: ‘Russia, de-escalate now or face severe consequences’. There’s nothing that our partners tell Russia that we are not aware of. There’s nothing that Russia tells our partners on Ukraine that we are not aware of. This is one of the principles of the network diplomacy. This approach can strengthen the unity of Ukraine and its partners and help avert a new escalation. To conclude with, I would like to once again make it clear. Despite various Russian fakes, Ukraine does not plan any offensive operations or provocations. We have never attacked anyone and we do not plan to attack anyone. Russia is the aggressor in Ukraine and Russia is a party to this conflict, not a mediator. The only responsible way forward is diplomacy. And the only effective strategy to make Russia prioritize diplomacy is deterrence. What is reassuring though is that we already see that diplomacy is working. Remember how many dates for possible Russian invasion have already been named in the previous weeks and months. At first, December was discussed, then early January, then late January. Now we are at the beginning of February and diplomatic efforts continue. This doesn’t mean that we have to relax and believe that the worst-case scenario is avoided. But this should give all of us confidence that we can be efficient in deterring Russia. To conclude with, today we have three collective strengths: our unity, our calmness and our resolve. Let’s hold on to our strengths and let no one weaken us. Now, I am ready to answer your questions. [END]